I have a new, surprise pen pal. Her name is Claire (but it really isn't) and she lives on the east coast (I'm being vague on purpose. I don't want to embarrass her if she reads this). She just celebrated her tenth birthday. She sends me pictures and her envelopes are always covered in smiley-face stickers. She draws little pictures of crosses and flowers to decorate her letters, and she tells me about her family. She has four brothers and sisters. She rides her bike around the neighborhood with her dad. She asks me to pray for her baby brother, who needs an operation. She asks me to keep her informed about the new book I'm writing because, she says, "your books are very special to me." She is a writer, too, she says, and tells me about her latest novel. She tells me she gets writer's block and has trouble finding the right words for her story. Yes, I can relate.
Her latest letter contains a folded one-dollar bill. "St. Therese told me to give this to you," Claire writes. It is attached by a purple paper clip to a wrinkled photograph of her from two years ago. She says emphatically that it looks nothing like her now, but she wanted me to see what she looks like. She's sorry that she had to fold it; it wouldn't fit in the envelope any other way. In the picture, she's wearing a dress with little hearts all over it and her arms are outstretched, as if she's embracing life and everything in it. Her face is lit up with a huge, toothy smile. She tells me she would like to see a picture of me as well. In fact, she says she wants to meet me. She's incredibly sweet, kind, loving, and smart. She loves God and His Little Flower, who is her very special friend.
My eyes brim with tears when I see the holy card of St. Therese she encloses. "Yours—and my—very special friend: St.Therese. She is always praying for us," she writes on the back in her childish handwriting. So very profound for such a young girl.
I tuck the holy card into the edge of my dresser mirror, where I can see it always. It helps me to remember why I do this, why I write for these children. Whenever I have one of "those" days, or feel fed up because I have writer's block, or any number of frustrations that a writer and publisher can have on any given day (and there are many, I assure you!) I look at the holy card Claire sent me and am reminded that my paycheck writing these books may not be gargantuan, and I may not be on the NYT Bestseller List, but you know what? I don't care.
Because little Claire doesn't care, either. And children like her are who I'm writing for, that's why. Not the folks at the New York Times.
Thank you, Claire, for being my friend.